There is no reason to breakdown the biography of Hall of Famer John Smoltz. Chances are if you are reading a post like this, you know who John Smoltz is.
He was from Michigan, drafted by the Tigers, was traded to the Braves. He developed into a big game pitcher, threw the shutout that clinched the 1991 pennant, won a Cy Young, returned from injuries to become an All Star closer and made it to the Hall of Fame with his teammates Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux.
If you didn’t know that before, you know it now.
The question I am going to bring up about John Smoltz is a philosophical one. Would the Braves have won more World Series if they used Smoltz as a reliever in the post season?
Notice how I phrased that. I did not say would they have won more if they turned John Smoltz into a reliever. Just for the post season.
Every year a team in the post season has to move a starting pitcher into the bullpen and sometimes that has led to some heroics from a pitcher out of their element.
Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Ramiro Mendoza, Mike Mussina, Tim Wakefield and Sid Fernandez all came out of the bullpen to get memorable outs en route to pennants and titles.
Hall of Famers Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and Grover Cleveland Alexander all had career highlights as relievers closing out post season series. The rules and roles that players have in the regular season sometimes need to adapt.
One of the things that helped the Braves make 14 straight postseasons was a regular season domination in the pitching staff. With having the better starting pitcher at least 4 games out of every 5 led to winning lots of series and piling up 90 some odd wins every year.
Obviously Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz topped most opposing pitchers. But the likes of Charlie Liebrandt, Steve Avery, Denny Neagle, Kevin Millwood, John Burkett, Russ Ortiz, Mike Hampton or Kent Mercker also were better than most of their opposition over the 14 year run.
Once the Braves got into the postseason, they would face better pitching than they would in the regular season. Granted they often would not have to face a pitcher as good as Maddux, Glavine or Smoltz. But the opposition would only have to match those aces for one game.
In almost each of the 13 times the Braves went to the post season where they did NOT win the World Series featured an inning where their relief ace faltered in a major moment.
Alejandro Pena in the 1991 World Series, Jeff Reardon in the 1992 World Series, Greg McMichael and Mark Wohlers in the 1993 NLCS, Mark Wohlers in the 1996 World Series, Kerry Lightenberg in the 1998 NLCS…. and numerous late inning losses in 1999, 2003, 2004 and 2005… all highlight an Achillies heel: Their wonderful rotation was 2X4ed in the face by a revolving door of relievers.
The paradox for the Braves was simple: During the 14 postseason run, their best innings eating ace in the post season was Smoltz. He was also their most reliable reliever.
When he recovered from his injuries that cost him the 2000 season, Smoltz became an elite closer. But manager Bobby Cox saw this potential before the injury. He used Smoltz as a starter and out of the pen in the 1999 NLCS. He closed out the save in Game 2 but let up a homer to Mike Piazza in the Game 6 clincher.
For his career (including a cameo with the 2009 NL Central Champion Cardinals) Smoltz threw 209 postseason innings, 27 starts and 14 relief appearances. He closed out two series as a starter and one as a reliever.
So what would have happened if Bobby Cox took advantage of Smoltz’s 200 some odd innings a year for the regular season and in the postseason had him close out the games, hoping that Neagle, Avery, Millwood et al could handle the #3 starter role.
Would that have resulted in more titles for the Braves? Or would it be solving one problem yet creating another.
I don’t know the answer. I am just posing the question.